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Steve Stricker returns to THE PLAYERS Championship aiming to repeat 2023 form

4 Min Read



    Written by Tim Rogers

    Steve Stricker concedes that the start of his 2024 season has yet to mirror his record-setting 2023.

    He can be excused.

    Did anyone across the landscape of professional golf have a better season than Stricker during 2023?

    He entered 16 events on the PGA TOUR Champions. He won six times and finished runner-up on five occasions. Only once did he finish out the top 10.

    As a result of his success, Stricker captured the season-long race for the Charles Schwab Cup and was named the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA TOUR Champion’s Player of the Year.

    Stricker also earned the Byron Nelson Award (season scoring average at 67.54) and Arnold Palmer Award (season money leader at $3,986,063) setting single-season PGA TOUR Champions records in both categories.

    “It was a very special year,” Stricker said. “Just a lot of things went right. I had six wins and had a lot of other opportunities to win. Overall, each and every week I felt like I had chances to win. So, it was one of those special years and I continued it all year long. Had a lot of confidence each and every time I teed it up and I just kept rolling with it. It was a lot of fun.”

    One of his six victories came in the Kaulig Companies Championship – one of five majors on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule, held annually at the historic Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It marked Stricker’s second win at the Kaulig Companies Championship after a victory in 2021.

    Steve Stricker’s Round 4 highlights from Kaulig Companies Championship

    In addition to the prestige of winning a PGA TOUR Champions major, each year the winner of the Kaulig Companies Championship is extended an invitation to compete in the following season’s PLAYERS Championship. Which is how Stricker – the oldest player teeing it up this week – found himself as part of the strongest field in golf.

    “Firestone is one of those places you’re excited to go to every year,” he said. “When you do win you get to come and play in THE PLAYERS Championship, which is something very cool for us at this age.”

    Despite a relatively slow start to 2024 Stricker is looking forward to going against the “youngsters.”

    “I am excited to be here,” Stricker said during a conference call on Tuesday. “I’m excited to challenge myself at this level. We’re playing against the best players in the world. Hopefully, I can get my game going. I think I haven’t had it so far this year but I’m hoping this atmosphere, and this tournament brings my game to another level. I’m super excited and pumped to be here.”

    Stricker, who turned 57 last month, has played in three PGA TOUR Champions events this season with moderate success.

    With rounds of 66-64-66 he finished third in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship – where he was the defending champ – five shots behind Steve Alker.

    Steve Stricker closes the gap with birdie on No. 14 at Mitsubishi

    He shared seventh place in the rain-plagued Chubb Classic last month but a final-round 75 after opening rounds of 68-66 dropped him out of contention and into a tie for 32d in last week’s Cologuard Classic.

    His finish at Cologuard was a rarity. It marked his highest 18-hole score in a non-major on PGA TOUR Champions, and highest overall since the 2020 Kaulig Companies Championship (75, final round). In 66 career starts on PGA TOUR Champions, last week was only is only the third time Stricker hasn’t finished in the top 25.

    Stricker knows it will be a challenge to win without an A-game.

    “I think my iron play has been really mediocre, if not sometimes pretty bad,” he said. “It’s just been very inconsistent. I played really well on Saturday last week (66) and then on Sunday I didn’t do anything very well. Here, I’m going to have to drive the ball well. The rough is up. And, I’ll have to hit some better irons than I’ve been hitting. But the swing actually feels pretty good. I had some good feels last week. I think I’m on the right track with things and I’ve just got to take that to the tournament.”

    Stricker chuckled when he was asked if he had ever been the oldest player in a field before.

    “You know, good question,” he said. “I don’t know. Probably. I think I played a John Deere Classic once before after I had turned 50 or was right around 50. So, I was probably the oldest guy there.”

    THE PLAYERS Championship hasn’t been Stricker’s favorite stop, even though he has made the cut 13 times in 22 appearances. His last appearance came in 2021 when he missed the cut. His best finish was a tie for sixth in 1999 when he went 73-73-70-74 to finish five shots behind David Duval.

    A victory – or even a strong showing – would be a great start to 2023 revisited.

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